Friday, July 8, 2011


In the beginning, peaches grew on trees. Now the peaches were ripe and ready, but they would not be fresh forever, and the smell of peaches at the farmers market wafted over me. 

And I said, "Let me take them home, fifteen pounds of them," and take them home I did. I saw that the peaches were good, and I separated the peaches from the peels. I called the peaches "tasty" and the peels "fuzzy." And there was dipping of peaches into boiling water then cold water as the peaches were skinned--the first step.

And I said, "Let the peaches be separated from the pits." So I took a knife and carved the flesh from the pits and was thankful these were freestone peaches. And they were separated. I called the flesh "halves." And there was a bowl of halves and a pile of pits--the second step.

And I said, "Let the little one entertain himself." And it was so. The little one called the toaster "fun" and the bag of chips "tasty." And I saw that it was good. 


Then I said, "Let the peaches be heated in an apple juice syrup, and when I run out of that a sugar syrup will do." And it was so. The peaches heated a single layer at a time, according to the directions. And I saw that it was good. There was heat and there was a ladle--the third step.


And I said, "Let the peaches go in the jars--the book says fifteen pounds should make five quarts." But it turns out I filled up seven more pints. I made two layers in my canning pot--one layer of quart jars and one layer of pint jars. I filled the pot with water. I set the jars in the pot as I filled them. And I saw that it was full. There was an an empty bowl where the peaches used to be and a full pot--the fourth step.

And I said, "Let the pot teem with water, bubbling over and onto the stove." So I cranked up the heat and put on the lid and tried to keep the fire from going out. The flame raged, according to its strength, and the water boiled and bubbled, according to its strength. And I saw the flame go out and panicked. I said to myself, "Maybe I should move the pot to a different burner and mop up the water so I don't fill the house with gas and blow us all up." And I slid the pot over and turned up the heat--the fifth step.

And the little one demanded, "I'm bored, according to my kind! Let me into the baking cupboard to play." And it was so. The little one took out the blender and put it together, according to its parts, and emptied out the muffin tins and cake pans according to his desires. He pulled everything out that was interesting to play with.
Then I said, "At least you are out of my way." 

And the little one was a busy as his mommy, just like his mom he kept himself occupied.

I looked at him and said to him, "Have fun and keep out of my hair; make sure you don't burn yourself on the pot. Glad there's nothing sharp in there." And it was so.

And when the timer beeped, I saw all that I had made, and it looked very good. And I took the jars out of the pot and placed them on the counter--the sixth step.

Thus the five quarts and seven pints were completed in all their vast array.

I had completed all the canning I desired; but the seventh step was to tidy the kitchen. Oh well.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bake. Hope. Eat it anyway.

I have only one Finnish cookbook, so it’s good that I’m only a quarter Finnish. One cookbook can get me through three months of cooking; although, by the end of those three months, I had pretty much cooked everything I had wanted to, multiple times. It’s Beatrice Ojakangas’ Finnish Cookbook and it was first published in 1964. It’s stayed in print but I’m pretty sure hasn’t been updated at all. Since finding a Finnish cookbook is not easy, and this is the one I grew up with, it was pretty much my Bible for three months.

Two of the Italian cookbooks I used were older, too. The more I use older cookbooks, the more I understand why so many people feel like they can’t cook. Before I undertook this endeavor, I mostly used the latest edition of the Joy of Cooking and, both of which have very clear, explicit directions.

Older cookbooks, on the other hand, are at once more detailed and more vague. One of the Italian cookbooks called specifically for a “fryer” in the chicken cacciatora recipe. But then it also told me to cook until “done.” I don’t think I’ve ever noticed whether a bird is a “fryer” or not, and if I’m a novice cook, how am I supposed to know when something is “done”?

I didn’t feel that way with Beatrice’s book for a long time. Like I said, it was the Finnish cookbook I grew up with.  There were only a few recipes in it that my mom made, but they always came out great. I had faith in it.

As I started my three month long stint, my faith was strong. I started with my favorites, variations on the piirakkaa, which is a Finnish pasty. Oh, it was wonderful! I moved on to a few meat dishes (you’ve already read about the lamb stew). Things were great.

Carrot piirakkaa with egg butter

Then I found the recipe for patakukko, or fish pot pie. It had a rye crust and three ingredients for the filling: whole trout, bacon, and salt. The recipe called for it to bake for a total of six hours and then to rest for another. Oh, how patakukko intrigued me! The time commitment prohibited me from pursuing it for many weeks. But finally, an appropriate weekend arrived and, with the help of my husband (fish completely freak me out), I assembled the dish, popped it in the oven, and because it seemed wrong to enjoy something that took so long to bake by ourselves, invited a couple of friends over, one of whom also has Finnish heritage.

Bacon + trout = patakukko

It baked and baked. We waited and tidied. Our friends arrived.

Finally, time was up, the table was set, and our appetites were whetted. I took my knife and attempted to slice through the crust. Not quite a rock. Leather, maybe? But more durable. The filling was flavorless and dry. We did our best to find nourishment in the meal, but it was tough. Literally. We came to the collective conclusion that I should have used a deeper dish (the directions said “three quart casserole” but no dimensions).

Six hours of baking does this

And that’s the difficulty with these older books. They were written in a time where assumptions were more acceptable. When people learned from their mother or grandmother or at least from experience. I guess cooks were expected to know certain things that have gotten lost in our convenience-driven society.

The hardest part of the patakukko was the waiting. There was absolutely nothing to be done but to be patient. Cooking has definitely taught me a lot of patience, but that patience has brought success time and time again. This time, though, my patience realized only failure. Not failure of my skills. Just failure that it wasn’t meant to be.

And sometimes, that’s what’s meant to be.